AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5. On average, colleges and universities will grant incoming students credit for college courses if they get a score of 3 or higher on their AP exams.
In 2019, nearly 60% of all tests taken received a score of 3 or higher. Students with the best AP exam scores are often allowed to skip introductory college classes and graduate early — thereby saving $1,000’s in college tuition and expenses.
With these advantages, it pays do well on on your AP exams at the end of the school year. Here are our tips to help you find the best way to study for an AP exam.
When Should You Start Studying for AP Exams?
AP exams are in May each year. To give yourself plenty of time to prepare, it’s a good idea to start studying for AP exams about halfway through the school year.
By that point you will have covered enough of the AP course syllabus to start reviewing and reinforcing the subject matter you’ve already covered for your upcoming exam.
Starting test prep several months ahead of time will reduce stress and help you develop the test-taking skills and confidence you’ll need to perform your best under pressure on exam day.
What Is the Best Way to Study for an AP Exam?
The College Board website (1) advises that the best way to study for an AP exam is to:
Make a Study Plan
Once you’ve determined the kinds of questions you can expect to see on AP exams, your next step should be to map out a weekly study plan.
Sticking to an organized study plan will ensure you cover all the topics you need to know. The first few weeks should focus on learning the content in your AP course. The last few weeks can focus more on strengthening your test-taking skills.
Your study plan might include creating flashcards to test your knowledge on one core part of the AP class syllabus per day or per week. It should also include practice time for DBQs (Document Based Questions) and FRQs (Free Response Questions). (4)
Sharpen Your Test-Taking Skills
You can sharpen your test-taking skills by taking practice tests before your scheduled exam day.
If you discover through practice test taking that you have trouble organizing your thoughts and writing winning essays or short responses to DBQ and FRQ questions under time pressure, then you will want to strengthen your essay-writing and free response skills in advance of the exam.
Ask your teacher to critique your FRQs and DBQs and offer feedback on how you might do better.
If you have trouble choosing the best answer on multiple-choice tests, you’ll want to spend extra time reviewing sample multiple-choice test questions so you will feel confident in your answers on test day.
Form a Study Group
One great way to keep yourself motivated while slogging through endless practice questions in preparation for those tests is to study in a group.
Getting together with fellow AP students you feel comfortable interacting with can be helpful. Commit to meeting once a week to review the material you’ve learned and to help each other prepare for exam day.
How Many Hours Should You Study for an AP Exam?
How many hours you should study for an AP exam depends on (a) the subject matter, (b) how easily you learn and retain the information you study during class, and (c) your own test-taking skills.
Most students who score a 5 on their AP exams don’t cram their study time into the final days before the exam. You’ll do best if you plan on studying two hours for every hour of class time.
AP Exam Schedule
Most of the 38 AP exams generally take two to three hours to complete and begin with a multiple-choice section. You receive points for every correct answer on the multiple-choice section. Since you don’t lose points for incorrect or unanswered questions, it’s recommended that you answer every multiple-choice question as best you can.
The second part of each AP exam usually consists of free-response questions. Depending on the exam, you may be required to write an essay, solve a problem or provide a spoken response. In most cases, you’ll write your answers in pen in the free-response exam booklet.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the College Board replaced the traditional face-to-face exam administration with shorter 45-minute exams that can be taken online. It remains to be seen whether the traditional exam process will resume in 2021, or if online exams will become the norm. (5)
Can You Google During The AP Exam?
Because the 2020 AP exams were moved online due to the Coronavirus, the College Board authorized students to refer to their class notes and class resources and search Google for answers while taking their exams. (6)
What Should I Do The Night Before the AP Test?
1. You’ll want to get a solid nine or more hours of sleep each night the week leading up to your exam. While you may be used to studying late into the night and getting by on five to six hours of sleep, research tells us that teenagers need nine hours of sleep a night to function well. You can’t make up for weeks and months of “sleep debt” with a single night of decent sleep the day before your exam. A sleep-deprived brain will have trouble recalling all of the important information you’ve spent months studying.
"Friday Night is Not Enough. Many students tally up staggering sleep debts during the school week, often tallying 10 hours or more of missed sleep by Friday. That’s why “getting to bed early the night before the test” is not very effective. Even if achieved, it’s simply not enough sleep to regain what’s already been lost." — Evelyn Jerome Alexander, College Counselor, Magellan College Counseling
2. Collect and pack everything you’ll need for test day the night before - including plenty of pencils, erasers, your student photo ID and 6-digit school code. If you are taking tests requiring calculations, bring a calculator and ruler.While you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the exam room, you may be allowed to grab a quick snack and drink of water during the 10-minute breaks between exam sections — so pack any snacks you might want and some bottled water.
3. Collect and pack everything you’ll need for test day the night before - including plenty of pencils, erasers, your student photo ID and 6-digit school code. If you are taking tests requiring calculations, bring a calculator and ruler.While you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the exam room, you may be allowed to grab a quick snack and drink of water during the 10-minute breaks between exam sections — so pack any snacks you might want and some bottled water.
4. Eat a nourishing breakfast the morning of exam day. Hunger pains are distracting and you won’t perform your best when your energy is low.
Can You Retake an AP Exam If You Are Not Happy With Your Test Results?
If you are not happy with your test scores, you can retake an AP Exam each time it’s offered. You will need to wait until the following year because exams are only offered in May. (7)